Alma appears in front of you as a ghost. She is girlish, as thin as an unfed fence post, translucent white. Most of the time, Alma just stands there, or shakes your shoulders. For such a slight thing, she is the "mother of the apocalypse." Or, at least, that's her goal in the afterlife. Little girl, big plans.
Lucky for you, in F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, you may be able to stop her. You are a Delta Force "black operative" named Michael Becket. While Alma wields the ability to absorb people and suck out their psychic energy, you may be immune to her appetite for destruction.
And that's about the extent of the storyline in F.E.A.R. 2. Elsewhere, video games have blossomed into long, novelistic tales. But some games are less heavy on story. F.E.A.R. 2 gives you a peek at this Alma-Michael Becket showdown plot, then becomes an exercise where you shoot henchmen for 12 to 20 hours.
That's acceptable in this instance, because F.E.A.R. 2 does the other main stuff right. It's a spectacularly conceived horror-adventure featuring realistic sets of hospital wards, cityscapes of rubble and penthouse condos. Music is creepy. And shootings, and the feel of body movement, are close to perfect.
Consider some intricate, ancillary details that cross your path: There's a head, with a helmet on it, in a clothes dryer; yellow cautionary "wet floor" signs are on some floors, and if you kick them, they move; you jump through a window and land on a scaffold, which shakes and moves realistically.
I don't want to wax too much about the sets and sights, since many games are elaborate. But it's important to appreciate powerful settings, especially in a horror title, to deliver mood. F.E.A.R. 2 would not succeed without these moody atmospherics and its creative, lush music score.
As an orchestra swells, Alma pops up in front of you unexpectedly. So do villainous soldiers, as well as glob-people who crawl fast on the ground at you. All this happens in dark rooms as you walk forward by way of a flashlight attached to your gun. You turn corners. Suddenly, glob-people are in your face.
I don't consider F.E.A.R. 2 scary, certainly not in a league with the first Resident Evil or The Suffering. But it is startling. Online multiplayer is fun if basic. And the guns are superb, from the pistol to a "napalm cannon," which flings fire at villains, who swat as flames engulf them, then crumple in a heap.
Three things are lacking. The plot is so transparent, it's a ghost. Dialogue is sparse, although there's one fantastic comic line of narration about Alma: "You're like free pizza at an anime convention. She can smell you." And nothing much is new here.
After all, Alma is a girl who whispers in sinister tones, à la The Exorcist and The Ring. And the first F.E.A.R. already dug some of this territory. It's not groundbreaking. It's ground-raking. Good thing, though: F.E.A.R. 2 rakes fertile ground, if barely below the surface.